In Parliament


Having won the support of 84 percent of voters in her area of Diyarbakir, Leyla Zana became a member of Turkish Parliament in October of 1991. She was the first female Kurd to hold a seat in Parliament. Zana immediately called the world's attention to the plight of Turkey's Kurds with an addition to her inauguration oath. In her mother tongue, while wearing a scarf with the Kurdish colors on it, she declared her goal: "I underwent that formality under duress. I will fight for the fraternal coexistence of the Kurdish and Turkish peoples within the context of democracy." The audience members were not pleased. In fact, many were enraged. Here was yet another first; Zana, a Kurd, and also a woman, had dared utter words in "an incomprehensible tongue," in a tongue forbidden from being spoken in Parliament, in her own language. She was from then on denied the right to speak in Parliament, any publication of her comments was manipulated and taken out of context, and her exposal of Kurdish living conditions to international media brought about two attempts at her assassination in 1993. Her fellow Parliamentarian Mehmet Sincar was not so lucky as she; he was shot and killed having been abandoned by his police escort.


A further repercussion for fighting persecution occurred when the Social Democratic Populist Party, or SHP, ordered that Zana and Hatip Dicle leave the group, Zana for her inauguration oath, and Dicle for calling attention to the combatant nature of Turkey's Constitution. Both did eventually leave the party of their own accord, not on account of the party's disapproval of their efforts, but because of personal outrage. The SHP had been dormant after the slaughter of one hundred non-militant Kurds by Turkish soldiers during Newroz, or New Year's, festivities on March 22, 1992, in Cizre. Leyla Zana, Hatip Dicle, and other former SHP members left the group for the HEP, or People's Labor Party. In Washington D.C., in May of 1993, Leyla Zana and her colleague Ahmet Turk, a fellow Kurd and member of Parliament, addressed those present at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and also the members of Congress at the Helsinki Commission. Zana explained to Congress the dire situation in Turkey. She told of how the homes of Kurds were being leveled, and of how Kurdish innocents were being killed, and requested help in the Kurdish quest for equality.


Zana's combined actions immediately gave her the label "separatist," and constituted the beginnings of a path from herself to a Turkish prison. Finally, in 1994, a ban protecting Parliament members from seizure was suddenly lifted, after the HEP visits to Paris, Strasbourg, and Brussels, to describe the crisis in Turkey. Leyla Zana, Hatip Dicle, Orhan Dogan, and Selim Sadak were taken into custody and charged with unlawful actions, treason, and inciting division.